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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Times
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Making His Mayoral Debate Debut at Education Forum, Weiner Basks in Attention

He took off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves, setting himself off visually from the four other men onstage. When asked a question, he stood up to answer, holding the microphone as though he were roaming the room at a town hall, while the other candidates remained sedately seated. At moments he seemed to mock the debate rules, answering one question, “I’ve got no bloody idea,” and at one point offering to give his “instant rebuttal” to another candidate.

Anthony D. Weiner, the disgraced former congressman and new mayoral candidate, participated in his first mayoral debate on Tuesday afternoon, and the spotlight was squarely on him. When he entered the room, a throng of reporters and television cameramen mobbed him, and the minute the debate ended, the mob descended again, surrounding him to ask him to repeat his positions one by one, while the other candidates left alone.

Rather than shy from the attention, Mr. Weiner, 48, basked in it, and sought out still more ways to set himself apart. He made no apologies and no reference to the Twitter scandal that forced him to resign. Instead, he suggested that he was relishing being back in the political fray.

“This is my first time seeing live fire,” he said at the debate’s start.

His answers gave him chances to set himself apart, too. The topic was education, and the debate was organized by an advocacy group called New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which opposes many of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s policies and calls for a moratorium on school closings and on co-locations, the practice of housing charter schools in public school buildings.

Mr. Weiner suggested that the emotional debate over charter schools was overblown and a distraction, since only 56,000 students attend charter schools in New York City, while more than 1.1 million attend the city’s public schools. He said that he did not oppose co-location per se, although he thought that local communities should have a say in whether to give vacant space to a charter school or use it for a new library, gym or science lab.

The other candidates who participated in the debate, which was held at New York University, were Sal F. Albanese, a former city councilman; Bill de Blasio, the public advocate; John C. Liu, the comptroller; and William C. Thompson Jr., a former comptroller and 2009 Democratic mayoral nominee. Another candidate, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, who is a close ally of Mr. Bloomberg’s, pulled out of the debate at the last minute, prompting denunciations from the organizers [including organizers from Make the Road New York].

At one point, the moderator asked the candidates to respond to a question about charter school co-locations that she said would otherwise have been put to Ms. Quinn.

“So this is a question to Chris Quinn that I get the first shot at answering?” Mr. Weiner asked. “I feel like, the first day on the campaign, I’ve been sucked into some kind of vortex already.”

At other points, he also made light of the moderator’s approach and questions. During a “lightning round,” which followed the “cross-fire round,” candidates were asked to respond to a series of questions with “yes” or “no” answers. The moderator asked if Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder of a charter school network — whose name is frequently invoked with loathing by charter school opponents — received “unfair special treatment” from the Bloomberg administration.

All of the candidates answered yes, until it was Mr. Weiner’s turn. “I’ve got no bloody idea — sure,” he said flippantly.

“Is that a yes?” the moderator asked.

“Yeah, it seems to be the answer of the day — yes,” Mr. Weiner responded.

He was also the only candidate to say that he would not strip the police of their role in enforcing discipline at schools, and that he would not set aside dedicated financing for arts education. Perhaps the most humorous exchange of the debate came when Mr. Weiner was asked if he would fight in Albany to get more money for city schools.

Mr. Weiner chose the moment to make an oblique reference to an unflattering remark that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made last week about Mr. Weiner’s mayoral ambitions, which he later insisted was a joke. “It’s true, if I’m lucky enough to get your vote and I wind up being mayor, I may have to fight with Governor Cuomo on things,” he said. “But, honestly, he started it.”

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